Featured Game: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Posted by Sam Hale
There’s nothing wrong with looking back at the past but there are many problems with bringing the past forward to the future. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is a nostalgic love letter to diehard fans of the series, but it’s so focused on the past that it fails to contribute anything meaningful. Playing Metal Gear Solid 4 is comparable to receiving a letter from your high-school crush, sure it’s nice to revisit fond memories but it won’t enrich or advance your life.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is the end of Solid Snake’s story and was intended to be the last game in the series. Therefore, everything is answered. Every plot hole, unanswered question and other mysteries are solved in this game. It’s oddly fitting that the “final” chapter in the Metal Gear Solid saga was a tribute to fans, because this game owes it’s existence to the people that this game so desperately hopes to please.
The Metal Gear Solid series was meant to have ended with Metal Gear Solid 3, however in an interview on Konami’s website, Kojima confirmed that he started development on Metal Gear Solid 4 because fans wanted closure on the Patriots, who were introduced in Metal Gear Solid 2. Kojima initially wanted to let someone else direct the game, however fan reaction to this news was negative and Kojima even received a death threat. Fans wanted a definitive end to Solid Snake’s story, so Kojima began work on Metal Gear Solid 4 shortly after finishing work on the third game.
In 2005, Kojima’s personal Metal Gear Solid team and several subsidiaries of Konami Computer Entertainment Japan merged to form Kojima Productions. This shift allowed Kojima to focus on developing games and the initial staff of 100 people doubled during the development of Metal Gear Solid 4. Later that year at the Tokyo Game Show, Kojima Productions revealed an announcement trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4 with the tagline, “no place to hide.”
Metal Gear Solid 4 was developed for Sony’s then-upcoming Playstation 3, which was released in Nov. 2006. It had a difficult, four year development cycle and the game’s release date was pushed back by a few months. According to an interview with 1up, this delay was directly related to the challenges of developing the game for new hardware. Kojima noted that the development team of over 200 people had a tendency to work hard in the wrong direction which was a factor in him assuming more development responsibility than he initially intended.
In an interview with the BBC, Kojima said that the first two years of game development were experimenting with the PS3 hardware in a trial and error process. Wrapping up the Metal Gear Solid saga was another challenge. According to an interview with Ryan Payton, assistant producer at Kojima Productions, the Metal Gear Solid series wasn’t written with a large plan in mind saying “the fact that [they] were able to tie up all the loose ends with MGS4 was nothing short of a miracle.”
The 3D camera and over-the-shoulder perspective had a dramatic effect on Metal Gear Solid 4. The environments were more open and larger than in previous games and the control scheme was heavily modified to allow more precision. Metal Gear Online which was introduced in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence was heavily expanded, allowing for more customization.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was released worldwide on June 12, 2008. Many people feel that it was the first killer app on the Playstation 3; Sony sold nearly twice as many PS3’s in June than in May. The game was critically acclaimed and received perfect scores from notable gaming websites such as IGN and Gamespot. It was lauded as the one of the best games of 2008 and the best game in the Metal Gear Solid series. Unfortunately, the latter statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Five years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 2, private military corporations have risen to prominence and the entire world economy revolves around the business of war. The Patriots, an organization that runs the United States from the shadows have implemented a system that relies on nanomachines in soldiers to control the battlefield.
Solid Snake is now an old man due to accelerated aging and bears the moniker Old Snake. Snake lives on a cargo plane with his friend Otacon and a little girl named Sunny, who is the daughter of Olga Gurlukovich from Metal Gear Solid 2. Snake’s former commanding officer, Roy Campbell contacts him about information regarding Ocelot, whose body is now possessed by Liquid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. Liquid is in control the four largest PMCs in the world and is supposedly planning an insurrection against the Patriots.
Campbell sends Snake to the Middle East to kill Liquid but the mission is unsuccessful and Liquid escapes. From there Snake battles him across the globe culminating in a finale that wraps up every loose end in the Metal Gear Solid saga. Snake isn’t alone in his fight either, he’s joined by a large cast of returning characters. The story is split into five acts, each taking place in a different location and with each act, the stakes get higher as Liquid gets closer to world domination.
Metal Gear Solid 4 has a serious problem of having too many cutscenes. The five-act structure results in five times as much exposition which cripples the pacing. Keep in mind that the Metal Gear Solid games have always been exposition-heavy. It’s a line that the series has walked pretty well but Metal Gear Solid 4 not only crosses this line, it runs so far past the acceptable amount of exposition that it would probably circle the planet and reach the other side of the line.
There’s too much story to go around and not nearly enough gameplay to balance it out. To make matters worse, the story fails in just about every category. There’s little to no character development, there are no thought-provoking themes, the plot is convoluted and the dialogue is clichéd with pre-school morals such as: “as long as there is light, there is shadow.”
The narrative is overflowing with fan service and deus ex machina in the form of the aforementioned nanomachines, which are apparently Kojima’s solution to everything. The plot is convoluted for the sake of being convoluted and comes across as badly written fan fiction.
Earlier Metal Gear Solid games had a theme that fit with the story, but Metal Gear Solid 4 has nothing interesting to offer. There’s no thought-provoking message and no lesson to be learned. The story resembles the kind of thing one would expect to find in a bland, drawn-out action movie. Metal Gear Solid 4 is far too reliant on nostalgia and the entire story struggles to find its identity.
For a game that is meant to be Solid Snake’s sendoff, he does remarkably little to move the plot forward or advance his character. Old Snake does next to nothing of his own choosing and is ultimately a pawn. While the latter was also true in Metal Gear Solid, in that game Snake often questioned his orders. In Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake goes from one objective to another without so much as a raised eyebrow. All of Snake’s character development from Metal Gear Solid 2 has been abandoned and most of his dialogue consists of those infamous one-word questions.
That being said, Metal Gear Solid 4 does a good job answering many of the lingering questions from previous Metal Gear Solid games. While the story may be painfully written, there are some moments that hit the mark. The ending in particular, while delivering way too much exposition, is a satisfying end to Solid Snake’s story. There’s a feeling of closure as almost every loose end is tied up by the end of the game. Some of these conclusions of a bit forced but at least in some aspects the story has a cohesive conclusion.
One of the few good things about Metal Gear Solid 4 is its visual variety. Every act has a different colour palette and unique atmosphere. Whether it’s the sandy war-torn battlefield of the Middle East or the damp cobblestone streets of Europe, there’s a welcome sense of variety in the locations. It’s unfortunate that the atmosphere is immediately lost due to lengthy cutscenes that are far too frequent.
All of the characters are poorly handled, serve little purpose to the plot or are just plain boring. Returning characters such as Meryl and Mei Ling from Metal Gear Solid have little impact and few characters have any development. New characters, such as the gun launderer Drebin are barely noticeable to the point that I often forgot about him until he was occasionally shoehorned into the plot. There’s something wrong when the only character development in the entire game comes from an anti-social six-year-old girl.
Unfortunately, the bosses in Metal Gear Solid 4 are just as uninteresting as every other character. Old Snake is chased by four armoured psychopaths called The Beauty and the Beast Unit which make up most of the game’s boss fights. None of these characters have a personality and each of their backstories are clumsily forced upon the player in some of the worst expository dumps in video game history.
As for the gameplay, Metal Gear Solid 4 is much better in this aspect than the story but there’s a problem; there’s simply not enough of it. The game plays closer to a third person shooter with an over-the-shoulder camera for easier aiming. The features added in the previous game are expanded and Snake can do a wider range of actions. For example Snake can now crawl on his back, roll from side to side and can crouch-walk for quick sneaking. There’s a satisfying responsiveness to Snake’s actions and the CQC controls are more responsive and easier to learn.
The camouflage system has been updated with Snake’s Octocamo suit. Whenever Snake is pressed against a surface, the suit will automatically copy the appearance, allowing Snake to blend in with the environment. The stamina meter from Metal Gear Solid 3 has been replaced with a psyche meter, which monitors Snake’s mental health. While Octocamo is a welcome improvement, the pysche meter isn’t as self-explanatory as the stamina meter and not as interesting. The psyche meter drains faster when Snake is in combat but this punishes players who prefer an action playstyle.
Snake has plenty of new gadgets in addition to the Octocamo. Early in the game, Snake acquires an electronic eye-piece called the Solid Eye, which displays data on enemies and brings up a small radar. Snake also has a small robot called the Metal Gear Mk. 2, which lets him scout the area ahead. Snake can collect weapons on the battlefield for points, which he can then use to buy other weapons and ammo from Drebin. The procure-on-site setup from previous Metal Gear Solid games has been tossed out the window, though to be fair this omission doesn’t ruin the experience.
Metal Gear Solid 4 heavily favours action over stealth. There are more weapons in this game than in every previous Metal Gear Solid game combined. This benefits players who prefer an action playstyle but does little for stealth-minded players. In addition to this, the story has several action set-pieces in addition to the boss fights. The boss fights themselves are repetitive and fail to leave much of an impression. The only memorable encounter is a complete reenactment of the Psycho Mantis boss fight from Metal Gear Solid. So to summarize, the best boss fight in Metal Gear Solid 4 is completely ripped from an earlier game.
The emphasis on action over on stealth alienates anyone looking for a stealth experience. It’s possible to complete Metal Gear Solid 4 with no alerts and without killing but the game clearly caters to players who avoid this playstyle.There’s nothing inherently wrong with a game that wants to satisfy players who want action, but a good stealth-action game should equally accommodate both playstyles.
Metal Gear Solid 4 will take you 15 to 20 hours to complete, but keep in mind that there are eight hours of cutscenes in this game. It’s nearly impossible to become immersed in the gameplay because it’s frequently interrupted by loading screens that require the player to press start to continue and an enduring amount of cutscenes at the beginning and end of every act.
Six years ago, when I first completed Metal Gear Solid 4 I concluded that the game was a masterpiece, a notion that quickly fell apart after my second playthrough and my most recent playthrough one week ago has me wondering what my 15-year-old self was thinking. Given the several perfect scores it received upon release, Metal Gear Solid 4 is probably the most overrated video game of all time. I can’t recommend this game to anyone but the most diehard Metal Gear Solid fan. If you’re desperate for answers I recommend looking up a plot summary or watching a Let’s Play on YouTube. Metal Gear Solid 4 isn’t a terrible game, but without any hesitation it’s the worst Metal Gear Solid game and hopefully it will remain that way.